Two CT Breweries Crack
"Class of 2018"
Words, Tyler Plourd
Photos, Tyler Plourd
Since 2011, the popular magazine and website, Beer Advocate has released a grouping of breweries compiled by writers, contributors, and community members entirely focused on the best of the newcomers. Each year, a new “Class of…” list arrives and there is fanfare, discussions, some crying, and then the ultimate internal existential decision on whether it even matters.
Usually lists like this don’t interest me, but Will Siss, arguably the best beer writer in Connecticut has been a contributor since 2015 and has been pretty spot on with his picks so far. After uncovering some of the previous lists, it’s safe to say it has featured some of craft beer’s most popular breweries over the past five years. In short, this list is a big deal.
Connecticut made an appearance on the “Breweries to Watch” section of 2012’s list with Two Roads. Cut to 2018 and Two Roads is one of the biggest breweries in New England with their beer reaching multiple states, handfuls of awards, and a new Wild & Sour facility dubbed “Area Two” ready to launch this Fall. In 2013, we were shut out, but in 2014, we made our first splash onto the highly coveted compilation with OEC (Oxford) nestled in amongst future behemoths such as; Other Half (Brooklyn, NY) and Creature Comforts (Athens, GA). OEC has been committed to raising the game when it comes to sour beers and will begin to release some canned offerings like their Baudelot Blanche, a Witbier which I’ll go ahead and claim as the quintessential Lawnmower Beer for the Summer of 2018.
In 2015, CT netted three breweries on the list with; Outer Light (Groton), Veracious (Monroe), and Kent Falls (Kent). In 2016, Brewport (Bridgeport) made the unusual splash considering craft darlings like; Foam Brewers (Burlington, VT), Suarez Family (Livingston, NY), The Veil (Richmond, VA), Industrial Arts (Garnerville, NY), Dovetail (Chicago, IL), Interboro (Brooklyn, NY), and Modist (Minneapolis, MN) were all in the same class, but the pizza-slinging brewpub lead by craft beer veteran Jeff Browning (formerly of BAR – New Haven) got the nod.
This year, Connecticut notched two more additions, this pair being the most deserving yet; Fox Farm and Counter Weight.
It’s hard to believe Counter Weight came onto the scene just last spring (March 2017) with their widely distributed IPA, Headway. The brainchild of Matt Westfall (formerly New England Brewing), Counter Weight hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back since. Headway continues to be a staple on tap at a bevy of bars and restaurants as well as wiggling its way to the forefront amongst the myriad of craft offerings at package stores around the state. The kicker for Headway has always been its balanced flavor, consistency, and price point.
At just $10.99/4-pack in most markets, Headway rivals Westfall’s former employer, New England Brewing’s Sea Hag as CT’s “fridge beer”. While Headway certainly made a splash and got the word out, it has been the vibrant two-floor tasting room, wide range of beer styles, and feverish tempo of can releases that has caught the attention of not just Connecticut beer drinkers, but a more national audience as well.
Van Art, a Gose that blends blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and leans on a touch of pink Himalayan sea salt for a balanced bite and beautiful blush color, truly displays Counter Weight’s technical capabilities. Sure, hazy IPA’s and heavy hitting Double IPA’s will get people in the door, but when you can slide a Workhorse Pilsner across the bar and admire the flawless brewing execution, that is when you know you have something special.
The addition of several foeders and a koelschip on display in their tasting room on the second floor show CW’s commitment to wild and sour beers as part of its portfolio moving forward. Obviously, with these projects comes great patience and willingness to potentially dump a large percentage of beer in the process, but it is fun and exciting to see a brewery that isn’t just going to cozy up and pump out IPA’s by the dozen. There is a future in Hamden, and the future is bright.
Fox Farm in Salem has emerged to be one of the best breweries not just in Connecticut, but in New England. The converted 1960’s dairy barn sets the stage for a wonderfully inviting tasting room that is home to a 30bbl brewhouse, quaint tasting room with a mezzanine which is where their koelschip resides.
Crashing onto the scene in a similar way, Brewmaster Zac Adams and company were praised initially for Fox Farm’s bright and expressive IPA’s. BURST, an American IPA has been a favorite since the beginning, an Imperial version, properly named DOUBLE BURST, was released this summer to the excitement of many.
Diversity is key on a taplist that normally doesn’t exceed 6-8 offerings. Not just the range of styles, but the execution of each one with individuality and creativity is what makes Fox Farm a very special brewery.
Attaching the “farm” moniker to a brewery doesn’t just explain the geographic location of the establishment, but leads to the belief that there will be funky and wild beers available, and Fox Farm has already released beers of this style in 2018. Mixed fermentation Saison’s like, New Again and Freckled Fields serve as wonderful introductions to the style, while a Grape Harvest Farmhouse Ale, Annatta was just recently poured at the Italian beer festival, WoodsCRAK18 in Padua, Italy alongside Class of 2014 graduate, Other Half, arguably the leader in wild and sour beer in America, Jester King (Austin, TX), and Logan Plant’s Beavertown (London).
For as much hype and excitement there is revolving around this place, I’ve found a great sense of tranquility when walking up to the counter, grabbing a half-pour of Little Brook, a delicately hopped Blonde Ale, and simply enjoying the atmosphere of the tasting room, the storied dairy barn that houses it, and the gorgeous property it rests on. Many try to replicate such an inviting experience, very few make it happen, and Fox Farm is one of those few.
If the trend of this list continues to display some of the most promising breweries in the country, then we should all be excited to have another few additions to such a distinguished class. This year, Brewery Bhavava (Raleigh, NC), Barrel Theory (St. Paul, MN), and Battery Steele (Portland, ME) joined the pair of CT breweries along with 40+ others to round out the Class of 2017, their largest class yet.
With more breweries set to open over the coming months and our little state experiencing one hell of a pop, I’ll be excited to check back next year and hope to see another crop of CT breweries grace the Class of 2018.